Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sabre of Boldness Nominees Sought

The Sabre ceremony, with which regular Gottesdienst subscribers are familiar, is in its twenty-second year.  Nominations are hereby invited and encouraged THIS WEEK (ASAP) in anticipation of the Symposia in Fort Wayne January 16th-19th.  

Please submit your nominations via email: full name of nominee, reason for nomination, with as many details as you can, nominee's address, phone number if you have it, and your own name.

The award is given “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity on behalf of the Holy Church of Christ while engaged in the confession of His pure Gospel in the face of hostile forces and at the greatest personal risk.” The degree of the adversity, steadfast resistance to pressures to compromise, heedlessness of threats, and a clear confession of faith are considered.  The slate will close on Tuesday, January 17th

What is the Sabre of Boldness?  – an excerpt from Fr. Eckardt’s Sabre speech in 2003:

The Sabre of Boldness is a venture which has been undertaken annually since 1996 by the editors of Gottesdienst as a gesture, however inadequate, toward the acknowledgment of unsung heroism which sometimes defines the deeds springing from Christian faith.  Maybe you aren’t supposed to know this, but the original idea was not quite so earnest.  If you haven’t already guessed it, the Sabre of Boldness was conceived in a bit of jest.  There was a fully intended and not-too-subtle double-entendre in the awarding of the S. O. B.: the recipient was on the one hand bold in the faith indeed, so much so that for his boldness, on the other hand, he had certainly gained recognition, of the kind not generally sought after, a page in someone’s Who’s Who among the Infamous.  But the Geist of the award very quickly changed, when it became evident that there were not a few readers who had a genuine and very serious desire to stand in solidarity with unsung heroes of the faith; heroes such as we seek to note, ordinary people whose boldness of confession, we imagine, must be recognizable as extraordinary at least to the angels, however unnoticed or even disdained by the masses who prefer to recognize status or reputation in accord with the norms of the world.
Those norms, we hasten to add, are often and routinely used to judge honor not only in the world, but also by people who like to go to church, and even in the judging of churchly matters.  Wherever they see compromise, call it virtue; whenever they find people willing to back down a bit from their principles, they call them wise.  Conversely when they see fidelity and dedication to one’s ideals they call it stubbornness, and when they find someone delaying the whole train just for the sake of conscience they call him a fool.  And since their kind of wisdom resonates well with the wisdom of the world, they sometimes even get lucky enough to find themselves in the world’s craved limelight, where the world in turn calls them wise, honorable, and even holy men.

So it is really no wonder, in retrospect, that this award began to take on such an aura of dignity among our readers, who have always been hungry for things which resonate well with the mind of our holy Christ. After all, He certainly did not fare well according to the wisdom of this world. The world certainly did not account Him virtuous or wise, at least not until after it saw that it would be advantageous to do so. Before that they easily scoffed, and reckoned that His stubborn fidelity to His Father’s ideals brought Him nothing but grief, crucifixion and death. Whoever has the mind of Christ must also acknowledge that what is lovely to the world is an abomination to God, and the world’s rejection or acceptance ought never be the allowed to determine the difference between a fool and a hero of the faith. As it is written, He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.
Thus the Sabre of Boldness has become our own meager way of saluting not merely its bearer, but anyone who, in however otherwise unnoticed a way, did the very kind of bold deeds that we saw in other heroes of the faith: Moses before Pharaoh, Joshua against the kings of Canaan, or Jael in the tent against Sisera.  The Sabre is fittingly a sword, reminiscent of Gideon’s against the Midianites, Ehud’s against Eglon, or even Goliath’s, against himself in the hands of our David. It signifies most of all the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God against our greatest foe, running him through by the stubborn, unbending, and fierce resolve of our Lord Jesus Christ to endure crucifixion and so to redeem us all. That Sword, in the hands of the Christian warrior, is what produces the kind of spirit which the world and its minions find so annoying, since it is ever so intractable and unyielding. Therefore we salute herewith every Christian who has such a spirit: first of all, those saints in glory for whom martyrdom was preferable to compromise, and after them also any who gave up some claim for worldly adulation, because they deigned instead to do the right thing for conscience’ sake, and closed their ears to the clamor of the world’s folly.
The Sabre certainly does not get any legitimacy from us clumsy louts at Gottesdienst who now find ourselves annually in this awkward position of being a kind of judges’ panel for something which, though we don’t quite feel qualified to judge, we really do consider a very highly honorable and salutary thing to recognize. The highest honor is the honor of suffering for the name of Jesus. He who suffers for Christ is honored already. The Sabre only seeks to emphasize this truth.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Does faith justify if accompanied by vice?

From this month's Gerhard translation work. The forthcoming volume On Justification is a must read. So many of our contemporary questions, especially regarding the Antinomian/Radical Grace strains within today's Lutheranism and wider Evangelicalism, are dealt with in fine detail.

Bellarmine [Gehard's Roman Catholic opponent....seeing in advance the ground that the Radical Grace folks would tred] retorts: “If faith, separated from the other virtues, were able to justify, it could also do this in company with the vices which are contrary to the virtues. After all, as the presence of the other virtues does not benefit faith for the work of justifying, the presence of vices will not hinder it, because they are connected with it accidentally as are the virtues.”
       We respond. The word “alone” has to do with the predicate. Faith, to the extent that it justifies, alone accompanies this act. Meanwhile, justifying faith is not alone; much less does it exist with vices, that is, with sins against conscience. How, then, would it justify with vices? Acting presupposes being; but faith does not exist with vices; therefore it does not justify with vices. Faith separated from virtues does not justify because it does not exist without virtues. Yet still it does not communicate the power to justify to the virtues and this [faith] alone justifies.

And a little more...Radical Grace has always been how Calvinists like to describe "once saved, always saved." It's not Lutheran.

 [Bellarmine] brings this forth from Calvin: “the seed of faith remains amid the most serious lapses.”
We respond that the Augsburg Confession (Art. 12) explains our opinion clearly against the Anabaptists, that “once justified, people can lose the Holy Spirit,” namely, through sins against conscience. Therefore justifying faith and sin that attacks it cannot stand together at the same time.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Augustana L.C. Festival of Worship

Augustana Lutheran Church in Hickory, NC hosted a great one day conference Saturday, November 12, 2016 in the beautiful nave of the church.

Augustana's pastor Father Gavin Mize is a great friend of Gottesdienst, having been published in both the print journal and online.  The narthex of Augustana has a stack of Gottesdienst for parishioners to pick up.

Pastor Mize opened the conference with an introduction: 'Parameters of Presentations and Liturgy According to Catechetical Aesthetics":

The next presentation, "Revolution Versus Revolution": Christ at the Center was given by Gottesdienst editor the Rev. Larry Beane:

The keynote address of the conference, "The Sacred Manger: Reverence for the Incarnate Word", was given by Gottesdienst editor the Rev. Dr. Richard Stuckwisch in two parts:

The Festival concluded with a Divine Service, a commemorative Mass of St. Jonah the Prophet, which Pastor Mize streamed live via Facebook:

The sermon was preached by Pastor Beane:

As a bonus, the following morning, Dr. Stuckwisch preached at the Sunday parochial Mass at Augustana for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost:

Thank you to the delightful and faithful people Augustana Lutheran Church, who provided Southern hospitality and cooking along with making this conference happen free of charge. Thank you to Pastor Mize for leading this wonderful event that taught, in word and by example, the concept of catechetical aesthetics in the context of the Lutheran liturgy!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Out of the barn!

The Christmas issue of Gottesdient is on its way to the mailboxes of subscribers! Not on the list of Gottesdiensters? It's easy to fix that today.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Strange Things Are Happening

by Burnell F. Eckardt Jr.

The words of Randy Newman, memorable because of their inclusion in the iconic Disney film Toy Story, come to mind with ease in this surreal year of 2016.

As of early this morning, the Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions, so hell must also have frozen over. 
And this in the midst of a presidential race that is utterly remarkable, pitting Donald Trump, of all people, against Hillary Clinton, of all people. It has been a wild several months, and with days left before the election, we have grown to expect strange new twists each day.
Two years ago we could scarcely have foreseen the possibility of the Cubs ever breaking the curse, and this presidential race is a phenomenon unlike anything I can remember.
So this seems also a fitting year for the Pope to come out and praise Martin Luther when visiting Sweden the other day. He actually said that the doctrine of justification “expresses the essence of human existence before God,” though he didn't say anything about what he meant by that. And granted, this comes from Frank the Hippie Pope (a brilliant moniker from Rev. Hans Fiene), who routinely manages to say things that leaves the curia scrambling in damage-control mode. But still, it is unprecedented that the head of the Catholic Church should speak in such glowing terms, even beyond the sentiments of his predecessor, about Martin Luther. Wasn't he excommunicated, after all, and his books burned?
Actually, I'm troubled. 

There was at this gathering an ecumenical prayer service that stressed, among areas of agreement, the need to work for world peace and justice. These strike me as code words, in a way, for an agenda of social reform that is generally bereft of, and sometimes inimical to, the doctrine of the Gospel as we know it. Mention was also made of the importance of being welcoming to immigrants, which, while on the surface sounds just like what Christians ought to do, seems to have politically leftist overtones in harmony with those who are pushing for open national borders. I might not be so cynical were it not for the fact that these matters were brought up in the very context of Martin Luther and justification. At the least it's anachronistic, and at most a gross misrepresentation of things that mattered to him.
I'm also reminded of the agreement that was reached in 1999 when representatives of Rome met with Lutherans and produced a joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, in which it was agreed that "by grace alone, in faith and in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit" (DDJ 15), but at the time I wryly noted, as did many others on both sides, that this was really nothing new, since it did not change either position. Both sides have always agreed that grace alone is the force behind salvation; where they have not agreed is whether or not we may speak of a kind of merit (meritum de condigno is the official term, I believe) that proceeds from grace and enables us to believe: an intervening merit, in a way, between grace and faith. For Luther all talk of merit is out of the question in connection with justification. Not so for Rome, if one carefully parses.
But I don't think anyone involved is thinking too seriously about justification at all.

In any case, this ecumenical fervor that is making "Lutherans" excited about the prospect of a future reconciliation with Rome is actually coming from Scandinavians allied with the likes of such Lutheran World Federation, which is, shall we say, not known for confessional integrity. The Lutheran Church of Finland has actually persecuted confessional Lutheran Pastors in Scandinavia, as Gottesdiensters may well remember. 
So if we indeed are, as the pope put it, to move past "controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another,” then perhaps I may be forgiven if I am led to wonder whether he means moving away altogether from such things as the matter of justification by faith, and on to the the "more important" matters that ecumenical leftists like to talk about. And if this is true, then those of us who might object will quickly be dismissed as being still bound to "fear or bias with regard to the faith which others profess with a different accent and language.”
If the year 2016 is curious, the year 2017 may be curiouser and curiouser, not least because it marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I would not be surprised to see, though I hope I do not see, the emergence of a feigned rapprochement that will leave us who seek a genuine doctrinal unity not only disappointed, but cast aside and even persecuted. It has already happened to some.